Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Monday, January 25, 2016

Dying To Succeed

"He was very excited. We used to tease him by addressing him as 'Doctor'. But after a few months, he began panicking. He was studying all the time, slept very little."
"Is it wrong to be ambitious? My son wanted to make the village proud by becoming a doctor."
"Every parent wants their child to become something big one day."
Mangal Singh, 52, Kolari, Rajasthan State, India

"Students are under a constant state of anxiety here. They are unable to study, concentrate, remember, sleep or eat. They complain of headaches and breathlessness. Many just weep in front of me."
"They feel guilty because their parents have spent so much money and have high expectations. Parents often impose their own unfulfilled ambitions on their children."
Madan Lal Agrawal, psychiatrist, Kota, India

"We have also told coaching schools to conduct screening tests to determine if students are really capable of scoring in Kota."
"This [sending results of bi-monthly tests to parents via text message] keeps the students on the edge all the time. The parents keep calling them to scold."
Sawai Singh Godara, Kota superintendent of police

How odd. Why would a city's police superintendent care about pupils studying in his city being under stress? Kota has a population of a million and a bit. Two decades ago the city had a small number of private math and science tutors. But in the space of that twenty years much has changed. Many private schools have opened for business in Kota, and it has become a hub for ambitious parents and their offspring to travel to in recognition that the city's business has become one of study preparations for academic opportunities and success.

Those dreaming of being admitted to India's prestige colleges make the trek to Kota. Over 160,000 students from across the country flooded into Kota's admissions schools last year. The city has attained a reputation as India's capital for test preparation. Aspirants must meet rigid requirements, however, above all determination and commitment and ability.  Proving that one has all those characteristics can be beyond gruelling for many constantly under stress to perform and devoting uninterrupted hours to study schedules.

That kind of rigour takes its toll on the vulnerable. In the past five years, more than 70 students have taken their lives in despair. Last year there were 29 students who committed suicide, unable to cope with the unending stress and disappointment. These confused and unhappy young people have hanged themselves, set themselves on fire, and taken to leaping from high-rise buildings. Mangal Singh's son, Shivdutt Singh, was one of those; he had locked himself in a dorm room after non-stop studying and hanged himself from the ceiling fan.

A dutiful son, he left behind an explanatory, apologetic note: "I am responsible for my suicide. I cannot fulfill Papa's dream." How utterly devastating, for the young man of 20 and for his expectant father now grieving the loss of his son. Both loved one another of a certainty, and each wanted the best that the future might afford for one another; the son to be able to make his father proud of him, and the father wishing to see his son fulfilled in a profession of great meaning and status.

City officials have ordered that coaching schools appoint counsellors to intervene when required in assessing the psychological stability of students; further, to commit to the organization of relief days free of study when the object in the classroom would be to have "fun". And above all, to ensure that fees are refunded to any students unable to forge their way to completing the process they had entered the coaching schools to prepare for.

The atmosphere of fierce competition for college admissions has resulted in a test prep industry in Kota, where middle-class aspirations are on the rise, and parents have ambitions for their children which may be misplaced. Young people, urged along by their families, arrive in Kota to sign up for coaching classes and to study from three months to two years. The goal is to win admission to the Indian Institutes of Technology, representing 16 public colleges.

Those colleges are recognized for their potential in realizing some fortunate students' futures, for graduates are valued by global companies offering substantive salaries. It is considered the Ivy League of Engineering education to graduate from one of the IITs; a sure-fire ticket to elevated social status and a position in a top tech company, either in India itself or California's Silicone Valley. One of IIT's most prestigious graduates is Google chief executive Sundar Pichal.

Almost one and a half million students take the entrance exam each year, with fewer than 10,000 accepted. This is where the test prep industry comes in, motivating families of modest means to aspire on behalf of their children's future prospects, to join the student body of those schools. No longer the sole preserve of the socially elite in a growing atmosphere of middle-class entitlement, offspring of modest means have made the grade, inspiring in others of their class the will to make the attempt.

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